Wednesday, September 13, 2006

What it Was, Was Football -- Alabama Style

I'll wrap up business from yesterday first. Later this morning I'll draw a name from all the commenters and that person will receive an autographed copy of Rocki's latest book THRILL ME TO DEATH.

And just cause we've had so much fun on the merry go thingy with Rocki (she never puked once!), I'm going to offer a second copy to the first person who can tell me how Rocki cracked the code of romantic suspense. Email me with the correct answer.

We now return to your regularly scheduled programming.

It was November.

Now where I grew up in North Carolina (you know -- it’s one state up and one state over to the right), November is just that month that contains Veteran’s Day, Thanksgiving, and thirty of the fifty-four shopping days prior to Christmas. But as I quickly learned, November in Alabama holds an entirely different meaning.

Despite telling my husband that I’d sooner move to hell than to Alabama, I found myself with my bags packed and the car headed in the direction of a town called Huntsville. The first weekend, we decided to orient ourselves to our new hometown. In 1973, The Mall was the place to shop. Parkway Place Mall was a strip center called Parkway City, and life as we know it today pretty much stopped south of Airport Road and west of Jordan Lane. Whitesburg Drive was a two-lane street, there was a drive-in theater where it intersected with Airport Road, and fast food had not invaded the culinary scene.

Our first stop was The Mall, which sat at the intersection of University Drive and U.S. Highway 231, also known as the Parkway. In its heyday, The Mall was a bustling shopping center with two anchor stores, and on any given Saturday it was full of all types, checking out the latest fashions, searching for the newest bestseller, or just hanging out at the center-court fountain. However, on this particular Saturday, something was occurring that we, as “foreigners,” were unaware of. This was the day of the annual Iron Bowl -- better known in layman’s terms as the “Auburn-Alabama” (or “Alabama-Auburn” depending on where your loyalties lie) football game.
Our first stop was a small clothing store that catered to men. We strolled through the store, stopping at various racks and displays, showing some interest in several items. We were never approached by a salesperson.

‘They’re all just busy at the moment,’ we told ourselves. Just then, a cheer arose from behind the sales counter and we noticed all the store personnel gathered around a television set. Peering closer, we saw a football game. And then we stepped right in the dog doo by interrupting the camaraderie and asking for assistance. If looks could kill, several of Huntsville’s finest young men and women would be serving life terms. And then we waded farther in by asking who was playing.

Maybe it was the stupid looks on our faces that gave us away, but some poor soul finally clued us in. “Hells bells, y’all. This is the Iron Bowl -- the biggest football rivalry in the great state of Alabama,” he explained before turning back to the television in rapt attention.

Iron Bowl? Football? Remember, we came from North Carolina -- the basketball land of Dean Smith and Jim Valvano, the Atlantic Coast Conference, and Michael Jordan. Football? These folks were getting this riled up about a football game? Shaking our heads, we left the store, only to encounter the same madness in every other establishment in The Mall. Shucks, it didn’t take long to figure out we could have shoplifted the contents of the entire mall while that game was being played, and no one would have been the wiser. Waving the white flag of surrender, we returned home, confident that the day’s experience had been a fluke, and that life would return to normal the next day.

Yeah! Sure! Just like life returns to normal after an atomic bomb is dropped or man walks on the moon. “The Game” was rehashed in a bazillion newspaper columns and a gazillion sports broadcasts, discussed in Sunday School classes across the Tennessee Valley, and Sunday morning quarterbacks replayed it for another week. Marriages were threatened and friendships jeopardized over the Tide and the Tigers.

Fast-forward thirty-three years. We moved away from the Tennessee Valley for several years in the mid-seventies, but chose to return here because we felt it’s one of America’s best-kept secrets. The Mall disappeared years ago, Whitesburg Drive is a major thoroughfare, the drive-in is gone, and civilization extends well south and west of Airport Road and Jordan Lane.

But every year, on a Saturday in November, the month of Veteran’s Day and Thanksgiving, and right smack in the middle of the Christmas shopping season, hordes of fans still gather in front of television sets to watch the Iron Bowl -- still the biggest football rivalry in Alabama, and something bordering on religion for many. And while we still claim our North Carolina roots, I now have a sweatshirt bearing the logo of one of those universities and a coffee mug proclaiming me a University Mom sits proudly on my desk. And I’ll never forget that day when I learned that what it was, was football -- Alabama style.

Are you a football fan? If not football, are you crazy over some other sport?


Linda Winstead Jones said...

Well, my husband is an Alabama fan, and I run around shouting WAR EAGLE whenever I see orange. :-) There was a time when my favorite teams were Auburn and whoever was playing Alabama, but that changed when we left the state for a while and I heard these out-of-staters dissing OUR boys. Now we root for both teams -- but on that one day we're divided. It's an exciting day around here.

My grandkids are divided, which is funny. Some are Auburn fans, some are not quite so smart . . . I mean, some root for that other team. Not long ago one of the kids asked me, "Granny, do you like Auburn or Alabama?" I told him I liked both, but I liked Auburn best. He said "Daddy likes both teams, too," then his expression got serious and he shook his head. "But not Mama." :-)

And then there's the time Barnes and Noble attempted to schedule their grand opening book signing on that Saturday.

None of the authors would come. :-)


Kathy said...

Football fever is everywhere!

In Oklahoma, everyone wants to be a Sooner. In Kansas, everyone talks about the JayHawks. In Texas, everyone routes for....well, the Texas Longhorns! In Tennessee, fans cheer for the Volunteers. If you're from Florida, you're probably divided between the Seminoles, Miami and the Gators. (I'm partial to the Seminoles, myself.) Having lived, grown up, or sent a child to one or all of these institutions, I can tell you loyalties are inbred and imbedded in fan's hearts.

Why? Football is a team sport. It brings people together toward a common goal. It is a primal way of rushing into someone else's territory, commiting a coup then finding the fortitude to do it all over again. It is a battle of wills, strength, and strategy.
And the mascots are cute! LOL.

Go Vols, Sooners, Seminoles, Longhorns, name it, you can support it!


Victoria said...

Roll Tide!! Sorry i just had to say it. I too remember when The Mall was the place to go and going out to the movies on Airport seemed like it was out in the country so to speak. I have had one of the good fortunes of being born and raised here, which ive discovered is somewhat of a rarity. I guess because of the Redstone Arsenal most people were transients so to speak. I also graduated from The University of Alabama with a psychology degree ( which i got to work at Bryce-the mental hospital there, but thats a whole other blog!!) I was lucky enough to receive full scholarships for both gymnastics and softball, which you would never believe by looking at me now.. :-) Anway, yes im for the Tide but i root for anyone in the SEC just on principle and im an AVID tailgater, it just gets in your blood.

Rhonda said...

I'm not exactly a football fan, but will be attending my first ever Alabama ballgame this weekend and doing the tail-gating thing with my dh's family. Honestly, it's the food that's the most appealing to me. :-)

Victoria said...

Oh Rhonda, the food IS the best part!!! i already have my ribs rubbed and wrapped, i'll make up and marinate steak kabobs tomorrow night and on Friday make my special white sangria complete with all kinds of fresh fruit in a huge getting chillbumps just thinking about it!!!

Smarty Pants said...

As a west coaster, I just have to say that I don't get all this hoopla over football. College ball at that! No one cared about my college football team, much less my high school team. It's all about the NFL.

That said, one of the first things people asked me when I moved here was whether I was for Auburn or Alabama. I have to say my answer has remained the same. "Go Wildcats."

SP (The University of Arizona fan)

Playground Monitor said...

Auburn or Alabama?

Yep, that's the first question they ask you when you move to Alabama. Of course, we were clueless back in 1973 and actually managed to stay fairly neutral until the fall of 1997 when #1 son headed to the Plains to attend Auburn. I don't follow the team and their stats. I have no idea if they're playing this weekend or who. But I'll yell "War Eagle" with the best of them. #2 son attended mine and my DH's alma mater in NC where basketball is still king. There it's Wolfpack or Tarheels?


Angel said...

I'm right there with you Rhonda! Somehow I managed to marry a sports fanatic. I'll never forget sitting through his high school basketball games and being embarrassed because his dad had to explain to me what was going on. We never watched sports in my house growing up; I'd much rather read.
Sounds like we need to talk Victoria into hosting a party! That food sounds awesome.


Jennifer Y. said...

I am a football fan. I grew up watching it with my dad on tv and going to games watching my older brother play. He played from the age of 4 and all through he is an Assistant Football coach for a highschool. We still go to the games he coaches. I am sure the football tradition will continue with my nephews playing (although the oldest one, age 6, doesn't want to play because he doesn't want to be tackled).

And don't throw anything at me or kick me out of the playground, but my family has always been fans of the Georgia Bulldogs (UGA)...especially my brother. However, to me it is just a game and it doesn't matter who wins, but not to is more than a game.

Oh and my sister made the mistake of getting married on Georgia-Florida dad actually wore his headphones during the pictures (and probably would have during the wedding if they had let him...LOL).

Lynn Raye Harris said...

I'm not much of a sports person, really. But my husband is going to LOVE Alabama -- he's a football nut, so he'll fit right in. :)

Maven Linda Howard said...

I can't believe someone didn't check the football schedule before planning a wedding. That's just wrong.

When my DH and I started dating, one of the first questions I asked him was "Are you Auburn or Alabama?" If he'd given me the wrong answer, we wouldn't have had a second date. I think LJ and her DH handle it very well, but I've known a lot of "mixed marriages" that have broken up because of their divided loyalties.

It's inborn. My two-year-old grandnephew was asleep one night and all of a sudden threw his arms over his head, yelled, "Touchdown! Roll Tide!" -- AND NEVER WOKE UP.

Jennifer Y. said...

LOL Linda Howard!

My twin three-year-old nephews were saying "Go Dawgs!" before they could even speak well. It was one of the first things they learned. They see a "G" like the UGA one and automatically say bulldogs (even if that is not what it is).

Oh, and since my sister's wedding we have learned to plan family events around the games whenever possible.